Chief Kim: Episode 4
As Ha-kyung starts to sink her teeth deeper into TQ Group’s corruption, she starts to question whether or not her new chief can really be trusted. But every time she decides to abandon him, he returns to take care of the things she cares for in ways that she had never dared to do. The question is, will those apparently impulsive actions be enough to take down the greater evil?
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Sung-ryong is dragged away by the police on charges of tax evasion and fraud. Horrified, Ha-kyung calls Madam Jang, suspecting that the innocent chief is taking the fall for a larger crime, just like the late Chief Lee did. Madam Jang assures her that she’ll look into it immediately. Hanging up, she takes some medication in distress.
The Accounting Department is suddenly overloaded with work, and it’s not long before Director Chu starts demanding to know where Sung-ryong has run off to in this busy period. Deciding to cover for him, Ha-kyung tells Director Chu that Sung-ryong had to leave early for personal matters. Director Chu nearly loses his mind in fury, but the employees are all too busy to track him down.
In the interrogation room, the police show Sung-ryong the evidence of the alleged accounting fraud. Sung-ryong swears his innocence, but his protests are ignored. The police aren’t worried, however, because a prosecutor will be coming soon to question him soon anyway. Right on cue, a scary-looking prosecutor arrives to take Sung-ryong away.
Overcome with worry, Ha-kyung excuses herself during lunch, leaving the rest of the Accounting Department to their ramyun break. Hee-jin grabs the first thing she can see – Chairman Park’s autobiographies, natch – to put under the ramyun pot. The team digs into their meal, spilling ramen all over the chairman’s photograph.
The team begins to eat and complain about Sung-ryong’s irresponsibility as a chief when the director of ethical management drops in for an unsolicited visit. She is horrified at the sight: office employees eating smelly food, during work hours, and on top of Chairman Park’s face, at that. She scolds their dishonorable behavior and attempts to whip them back into shape, to no avail.
Ha-kyung arrives at the police department to find out about Sung-ryong’s criminal status. The police officer briefs her on his charges, but then asks why TQ would hire someone like Sung-ryong; to Ha-kyung’s shock, it turns out he’s been investigated every year for tax evasion and accounting fraud.
Intern Ga-eun opens up a package, delighted to find that her mail-ordered bugging devices have arrived. She pockets the included lollipop and post-it note thanking her for her patronage before hurrying to the Accounting Department, a mysterious package in hand.
When she arrives to give the package to Sung-ryong, however, her target is nowhere to be found. Ha-kyung comes in to see a strange girl wandering around the office, and Ga-eun quickly introduces herself as an intern, here to give Sung-ryong a gift. Ha-kyung offers to relay the gift to him, but Ga-eun insists that she’ll come back later to give it to him herself. Director Chu tuts that Sung-ryong must be seducing the female employees already.
Meanwhile, a handcuffed Sung-ryong is led into an abandoned warehouse by the scary-looking prosecutor. The prosecutor ignores Sung-ryong’s flippant jokes and sits him down, asking if Sung-ryong was the one who prepared the fake accounting books. When Sung-ryong denies it, the prosecutor punches him in the face, knocking him out.
The Accounting Department finishes up their work, elated at the prospect of finally going home on time. Ha-kyung, however, pulls Director Chu away from the happy gathering for a private conversation.
Sung-ryong returns to consciousness in the warehouse to a new sight: Yul serenely grilling meat by his side. Sung-ryong groans, asking if Yul was the one who set all of this up, but Yul just snorts: “Why couldn’t my coworkers in Gunsan lock up a careless guy like you?” Smirking, Yul casually brings out a stack of Sung-ryong’s own old accounting books, dropping them on the table.
Sung-ryong is speechless, but Yul just sits at the table to return to a half-finished Jenga game. He tells Sung-ryong to pull out one of the more stubborn blocks, offering to let Sung-ryong go free if he succeeds. “I’m the only one who knows about your forged books, and the report was anonymous,” he says. “If you win this game, I’ll let you destroy them.”
Suddenly playing for his innocence, Sung-ryong reaches out a trembling hand for the Jenga block… right before Yul kicks down the whole tower. Sung-ryong jumps up at the injustice, but Yul shouts right back: “Did you think you could win by figuring out my weak point?!” Yul assures him that he’s nothing like the low-life criminals from Gunsan. If Sung-ryong tries to mess with his plans again, he won’t let him off this easy.
Executive Director Jo meets with Director Go to confirm that he leaked tabloid articles about former Chief Lee and his wife to their Chinese partner, Seoahn Jangryong. Executive Director Jo swears not to let Yul take her project; though she feels sorry to Chairman Park, she says, “This is a matter of pride.”
Yul tells Sung-ryong that the moment he acts out again, he’ll use Sung-ryong’s fake accounting books. As long as Sung-ryong does as he’s told, he’ll destroy the evidence. At Sung-ryong’s sigh of relief, Yul laughs, noting that these books are like potty-training an animal.
Yul settles on only putting Boss Bae behind bars, but Sung-ryong interjects to make a hesitant request: to leave his employee, Gwang-sook, out of it. Yul agrees, but then offers to settle today’s affairs in the old-fashioned way: “Kneel down, apologize, and promise to work hard in the future.”
Sung-ryong refuses, but the moment Yul threatens him again, he drops to his knees and complies. Yul laughs, condescendingly petting Sung-ryong’s head like a dog.
Ha-kyung talks with Director Chu over dinner, asking to know about the problems at TQ. Ha-kyung insists that they can’t turn a blind eye to pure injustice, but Director Chu tells her not to be so emotional; their lowly department is helpless to affect the affairs of the top people at TQ.
After Yul leaves, Sung-ryong takes off his handcuffs and overturns the table in fury before returning home and doing the same with his Danish flag. He demands to know why getting to Denmark is so difficult that he must lose his pride for it.
Sung-ryong calls Gwang-sook to explain the situation, and she indignantly urges Sung-ryong to leave TQ immediately. Still, he insists, he should take at least a little from TQ; he was lucky to get this job in the first place. Gwang-sook scoffs at the idea: “Do you know who the luckiest person was in the movie Titanic? The person who lost his ticket to Leonardo DiCaprio, and never got on the boat at all.”
Director Chu drinks too much during his dinner with Ha-kyung, and is finally drunk enough to spill all of TQ’s secrets. He informs her that TQ started going downhill when Chairman Park married Madam Jang, who was CEO at the time, and pushed her out of TQ’s affairs by telling the board about her illness.
Ha-kyung is surprised, having thought that Madam Jang stepped down voluntarily. Still, she notes, TQ is managing perfectly well. Director Chu just snorts at that: TQ has been operating in the red since 2011, and all of its financial reports have been faked. A horrified Ha-kyung realizes that TQ will crumble soon, but the director just tells her to keep this information to herself before drunkenly scrambling for a taxi.
Sung-ryong mulls over Gwang-sook’s words, but sighs that he doesn’t have any way to get out of TQ cleanly. The next day, Sung-ryong overhears the Sales Department gossip about a coworker on the verge of getting fired for misbehaving at an office party. He grins deviously to himself at the prospect of being fired, which is when the cleaning lady, Ms. Uhm, barges in to introduce herself again. Realizing she doesn’t recognize him from the hair-washing incident, Sung-ryong converses pleasantly with her.
When he returns to the office, Director Go is scolding the team for messing up the year-end calculations. Fed up, Ha-kyung starts to defend the team, but is quickly shut down. Sung-ryong sneaks in guiltily, knowing that abandoning the team yesterday was part of the issue.
He’s immediately called over by Director Chu for a scolding, however, and Sung-ryong starts to explain before realizing that Director Chu doesn’t know he was arrested. Sung-ryong thanks Ha-kyung in private for covering for him, but she brushes it off in annoyance. She demands to know why he was arrested every year for tax evasion, explaining that it’s particularly fishy when his predecessor is currently being charged for the same. She promises to watch him for suspicious action in the future.
Ga-eun returns to deliver her apology gift to Sung-ryong. She pushes him to open it, but he says he’ll open it at home. Startled, she opposes, specifically demanding that he keep it at his work desk, and only with Director Chu’s teasing encouragement does he agree. The gift turns out to be a garbage bin-shaped piggy bank, and he keeps it on his desk as instructed.
Director Chu asks how they know each other, and Ga-eun brightly explains that she hit his groin. Chief Kim tries to deny any misunderstanding to the scandalized department, but it’s too late. He receives a text from Yul and excuses himself, growling at the clueless Ga-eun not to follow him.
Ha-kyung asks to meet Director Chu in private, reminding him about what he told her last night. He’s shocked that he told her so much already, but reluctantly gives into her request to explain the power structure surrounding the chairman, which includes the three closest to him: Executive Director Jo, Director Go, and the newly arrived financial director, Seo Yul. Yul was specifically hired for his experience as a prosecutor, since he knows accounting fraud law and knows how to clean up the fraud perfectly.
Sure enough, Yul is hard at work scheming TQ’s fraud operations. Their accounting fraud inspection with their Chinese partner is coming up, and it’s a stricter inspection than other companies. Sung-ryong’s job is to create these false accounting documents… hundreds and thousands of them. Sung-ryong is indignant at the scale of work he’s being asked to do, but Yul is unsympathetic. As he leaves, Sung-ryong mutters that he needs to leave TQ as soon as possible.
The chairman’s son, Park Myung-suk, is busy with his own work, though to a much less admirable degree. He rejects the proposed model candidates for TQ’s department store in favor of his own choice, Na Sung-ran, even though she has a reputation of drug use and scandals. Despite advice otherwise, Myung-suk snarls that he’s chosen Na Sung-ran.
Ha-kyung sits alone in the office, deep in thought. She looks up Seo Yul in the office directory, noting from his photo that he looks familiar before placing him as the guy waiting at the batting cage. Yul himself, meanwhile, strolls up to the batting cage, nonchalantly playing whack-a-mole as he conspicuously waits for Ha-kyung to show up.
Ha-kyung watches Sung-ryong work before going to meet Madam Jang, who has investigated Sung-ryong’s history of past crimes. They note that Yul must have hired someone with fraud experience to do his dirty work, and that he must also be the one who led Sung-ryong go free yesterday.
Ha-kyung asks why the chairman is resorting to these methods, and Madam Jang explains that he’s trying to protect his position. Only by collecting sufficient evidence, says Madam Jang, can she convince the board and the prosecutor’s office to indict the chairman. Madam Jang tells Ha-kyung that TQ is currently preparing for Seoahn Jangryong’s inspection; during their preparations, they will surely have to reveal evidence of their accounting fraud.
Meanwhile, Chairman Park explodes at his son for his horrible choice of actress Na Sung-ran as the face of TQ Department Store. Realizing that Na Sung-ran must be the drunk girl Myung-suk brought to the funeral service a few days ago, he screams that Myung-suk helps the company by doing nothing at all. Madam Jang returns home to this scene, but the chairman quickly acts like nothing is wrong; in return, Madam Jang lies that he just met up with some friends rather than with Ha-kyung.
Things are tense at the Accounting Department too, where Ha-kyung and Sung-ryong begin arguing over workloads at their team meeting. Ha-kyung starts to accuse Sung-ryong of not being transparent, and Sung-ryong begins to retort when Myung-suk storms in, furious. Everyone stands around nervously as he begins throwing things around the room, demanding to know who is responsible for not clearing his receipts.
At that, Sung-ryong takes responsibility, responding flippantly to each of Myung-suk’s expenses: entertaining guests, buying brand name products, and renting hotel rooms. The team hisses at him to calm down, but it’s too late; before long, Sung-ryong is grabbing him by the arm and threatening to tear him apart. Yikes.
Myung-suk leaves, sobbing, and the team stands around in shock. It’s clear that Sung-ryong has just done something unforgivable; Director Chu sighs that the whole team will have to take responsibility for Sung-ryong’s impulsive action with their jobs on the line. Ha-kyung adds: “Do you think the higher-ups will be affected by something like this?” Sung-ryong retorts that she told him to be transparent, and so he was. He storms out.
Myung-suk’s own complaints about Sung-ryong, meanwhile, are met by an infuriated, humiliated Chairman Park. The chairman tells him to stop acting so irresponsibly, and then orders Executive Director Jo to take care of it.
Skipping off alone, Sung-ryong praises himself for going so far: only by doing something this crucial will he be fired and let free. Yul, of course, has other plans—as Executive Director Jo snarls that they should fire him immediately for his insolence, Yul insists that he needs Chief Kim: “I’ve just tamed him.”
Yul summons Sung-ryong to tell him to behave for the next few days, since he’s on the verge of being fired right now. Sung-ryong feigns despair, but before they can continue, Yul receives an emergency phone call.
Sung-ryong strolls back to the office but runs into Ha-kyung, who has been waiting for him: “I told you I’m watching over you,” she says. He acts hurt at her distrust, insisting that he has nothing to gain from exploding at the chairman’s son. “I might get fired tomorrow,” he sighs sadly. Shocked and apologetic, Ha-kyung watches him walk away, oblivious to the fact that he’s grinning triumphantly to himself.
The TQ higher-ups have an emergency meeting to discuss Seoahn Jangryong’s investment, which has been put on hold due to the rumors surrounding Chief Lee’s suicide attempt. Director Go informs the chairman that some delegates from Seoahn are coincidentally in Seoul, so he tells Yul to go meet and negotiate with them and get the investment back. Chairman Park also orders Director Go to file a legal complaint against Chief Lee’s wife and make her disappear once and for all.
Yul heads home after work and notices Ha-kyung walking toward the batting cage. He follows her there and greets her nervously, pretending he wasn’t watching her the whole time. As she leaves, however, she rejects all of his attempts at conversation, and he sighs to himself in embarrassment. Man, I feel like I shouldn’t find this cute, but… aw.
Executive Director Jo briefs Chairman Park on their afternoon meeting with Seoahn before the chairman points her to another matter: his wife seems to be disappearing often lately. He orders her to follow his wife and to report anything strange.
Director Chu returns from a meeting with management regarding Chief Kim’s fate. Until they reach a decision, Chief Kim is to remain on probation without working for a while. Director Chu apologizes for not being able to do more, but Sung-ryong insists that he’s fine as long as no one else on the team was affected. Sung-ryong packs up his things before heading to the probation room.
Director Chu reluctantly informs them of one other task, directly from Director Go, which is to prepare some refreshments for TQ’s Chinese guests. Ha-kyung grits her teeth at the lowly, humiliating job, but swears to do it herself.
Ha-kyung misses several calls from Chief Lee’s wife while she shops for refreshments, and finally, Chief Lee’s wife resorts to calling Sung-ryong instead. She’s just received the legal complaint from TQ, and she and Sung-ryong meet at a café to discuss it. He notes the charges against her, the worst of them being the disruption of business by interrupting an investment deal, and predicts that not many lawyers will stand up for her.
Ha-kyung belatedly tracks her down and arrives at the café, snatching the documents out of Sung-ryong’s hands. As they walk back to TQ, Ha-kyung tells her not to trust Sung-ryong, and that she’ll take care of things in the future.
The Chinese delegates arrive at TQ at the same time as Sung-ryong, Ha-kyung, and Chief Lee’s wife. Director Go, who is waiting to greet the delegates, notes Chief Lee’s wife walking toward them and orders security to detain her immediately.
Security grabs Chief Lee’s wife, pushing Ha-kyung to the ground. Taking in the scene, Sung-ryong makes a final decision; tightening his fist, he swings a punch into the guard’s face.
I’m pretty sure this last scene is supposed to feel triumphant and refreshing… but why do I feel so unsatisfied? I think the reason lies in Sung-ryong’s character itself, who continues to be jarringly inconsistent. While Namgoong Min is an eternal delight to watch, it’s getting mighty difficult to relate to Sung-ryong, who acts loyal and generous in the impulse, but pushes all of his life decisions toward being aloof and selfish. For me, this last scene should have felt like a promise that Sung-ryong would change, but the show doesn’t seem to have set up enough motivation and reason for me to feel ensured and confident that he’ll stick to his guns. While in some circumstances, this repeated flipping of the tables would be fun to watch, in Chief Kim, the plot device is overused and made almost boring, like the showrunners could make up the rules and motivations however and whenever they wanted.
Of course, it’s not as if Sung-ryong is without qualities; in fact, there are certain moments where I’m glad for his character, as his ability to remain positive and bounce back from misfortunate with a smile on his face is exactly the method necessary to face these laughably specific, heinously evil adversaries. Anyone other than someone with Sung-ryong’s personality would probably be unable to withstand the pressure of TQ’s work environment and Seo Yul’s sinister threats; further, it makes me curious to know exactly where Sung-ryong’s threshold for suffering is. It’s particularly difficult to know, given the suggestion that Sung-ryong is constantly putting on a front; how much of his submission to Yul’s pressure is real, and how much is faked? What are his true intentions? What does he want out of life? Of course, these are questions that Sung-ryong himself doesn’t really seem to know the answer to, which is just as interesting.
One of my favorite running themes so far, however, is the idea of saving oneself versus working in a team. The team aspect is very prominent in this drama, not only in terms of professional department divisions, but self-made social ones, as well. Already, the Accounting Department seems to be establishing itself as a sort of family, looking out for each other in the face of the greedy, hot-tempered higher-ups. But for people like Sung-ryong and Yul, who do their best work for their own self-interest, how do they start to reconcile with the difficulties of looking out for others? How can they start to see that working together may have its strengths over ordering others around or having to carry them as a burden?
All in all, I’m having an inordinately hard time figuring out whether or not I like this show. There are certainly some certain aspects of each episode that genuinely surprise and excite me; this unexpectedly sweet (for now) one-sided romance between Yul and Ha-kyung, for example, was a legitimately welcome plot point that spoke to the volumes of potential for Seo Yul’s character development. Further, there are meta moments that suggest that this show is willing to be smarter than it’s letting on, such as when Yul scolded Director Go last episode for trying to take care of matters “like a criminal organization.”
The loyal friendship between Sung-ryong and Gwang-sook is always lovely to watch, and the Ga-eun antics are so laughably harmless that it’s almost sweet to watch. But in the end, these aspects seem to add up to less than their sum; in a sense, Chief Kim’s greatest strengths seem to lie in its potential rather than what it’s served so far. It seems to me to have a solid handle on storytelling, but without the effort it deserves to make it substantive enough to graduate from the lightness stage. Sure, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but personally, the jarring differences are hard to reconcile. But I just hope that the show will evolve its potential themes into something more substantive and confident before the comedic moments get old and we lose interest altogether.
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